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Cat Ba Island
travel guide

Cat Ba Island Introduction

| 30 Jan 2012
Last updated 30 Jan 2012

Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Halong Bay archipelago and the only one that hosts a substantial settlement. The fishing community at Cat Ba town has been transformed by travellers during the past decade as the island has become a summer favourite with domestic tourists and a year round option for backpackers and travellers with time to explore less visited parts.

Cat Ba Island's national park, declared in 1986, occupies just under half the island's 260sq km land mass.

Most travellers visit Halong Bay from the north at Bai Chay. This is where the major cruises and day trips operate from. Cat Ba, at the southern end of the bay, gives a slightly less touristed, but ultimately similar experience of the bay's beautiful limestone islets.

Cat Ba is better suited to those with some extra time and an interest in exploring the island and its national park. Rock climbing and other adventurous activities are offered. The island's also good for cycling or motorcycle exploration.

It's possible to loop from Bai Chay to Cat Ba and vice versa and many Halong Bay overnight cruises include a brief visit to Cat Ba in their 3 day / 2 night itineraries.

Cat Ba is renowned for scamming so keep your wits about you. Most of the tourist sights will involve protracted and frustrating negotiations with scamming officials. Rapacious locals can put a real dampner on a visit to one of Vietnam's most beautiful natural spots.

The problem of plastic and other waste that is an increasing scourge across Halong Bay, is also present in Lan Ha bay area around Cat Ba.


Cat Ba Island Need to Know

Travel information about getting to and from Cat Ba Island from Hanoi, Halong Bay and Haiphong.

Cat Ba Island - getting there and away

Most travellers visit Cat Ba as part of a tour that includes a night on Halong Bay. That's definitely a straightforward way to do things. For independent travellers, there are basically three ways of getting there - 2 from Hanoi, one from Bai Chay (the other side of Halong Bay).

From Hanoi

Bus and boat

There are two ways to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba. One option travels by bus from Hanoi, the other by train. Both use one of the various boat options to get to Cat Ba.

Most independent travellers purchase a combined bus - boat - bus ticket in Hanoi at  start their journey from Hanoi's  where a ticket can be purchased that includes all elements of the trip through to Cat Ba town (that's bus, boat to the island and another bus to Cat Ba town - around 5 hours usually). It's definitely the best way to avoid being ripped off.

Check latest times and prices in Hanoi. There are usually several morning departures each day and one afternoon.

It’s neither the most convenient nor safest route however. We prefer the train and boat option (see below).

Hoang Long bus company,
Luong Yen Bus Station Hanoi

Train and boat

The train and boat option is the best bet - except you'll need to be ready to handle the boat process in Haiphong where you'll likely encounter touts trying to sell inflated boat tickets on inferior boats. Go direct to the counter and ignore people milling around the dock.

Trains depart Hanoi's Long Bien station at Long Bien Bridge not far from Dong Xuan market and VIP soft seat tickets cost 60,000VND. The journey is just over 2 hours. It’s good fun.

Haiphong train station is a 2 minute taxi ride or 15 minute walk from the port. Fast boats leave from Haiphong regularly and cost 150,000VND.The boat ride is 45 minutes and the bus ride from Cat Ba port to town is another 45 minutes (included in the price).

Another fast boat operates directly to Cat Ba town from Haiphong - no bus trip on Cat Ba required. This is the quickest option however its departures vary with the season and demand and often it only leaves in the morning.

From Bai Chay (Halong Bay)

Some travellers visit Cat Ba after doing a Halong Bay trip. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense unless you are staying on one of the high-end boats that operate out of Bai Chay. Otherwise, if Cat Ba is a priority go straight there and do your Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay cruise from Cat Ba.

If you do need to get from Bai Chay to Cat Ba, there are cheap public slow ferries and faster hydrofoils. Check times and prices with your hotel. It's also worth noting that many travellers seem to have encountered scamming at one or both ends of this trip so take care.

Cat Ba Island - getting around

Cat Ba's great for exploring by motorbike. Motorbikes can be rented for around US$8 per day. There's nice cycling to be had close by Cat Ba town too. The island is hilly though, limiting more extensive cycling to the very fit. The main roads around the island are mostly in good condition and don't see much traffic. If you’re planning on jumping on a motorbike, make sure your insurance is in order.

Car hire and motorbike taxis can also be arranged in Cat Ba town. Motorbike taxis (xe om) can be a good way to explore the island since the riders usually know the best spots. Be sure to clearly agree your plans and price in advance.

Cat Ba Island - health and safety

Information for travellers about safety, scams and health on Cat Ba Island

Travellers to Cat Ba seem to suffer from an inordinate amount of scamming and general gouging. It's a shame in such a beautiful place. The major stumbling points are getting on and off the island and booking boat trips. Officials at tourist sights will also likely try and pull small scale scams. We encountered guards insisting we return our entrance tickets at the end of our visits (for resale we assume) at two locations as well as general unpleasant pushiness.

The guide at the Hospital Cave was a refreshing contrast. He was wonderful and probably should be running tourism on the island!

While scamming is rampant on Cat Ba, travellers are rarely victims of physical violence.

The greatest risk to the physical wellbeing of travellers is posed by motorcycling, cycling and adventurous activities such as rock climbing. Be careful and don't make Cat Ba the place where you decide to learn to ride a motorcycle.

Cat Ba's medical facilities are very basic. There is a larger hospital in Haiphong. If possible and on doctors advice, try and have medical treatment in Hanoi.

Cat Ba Island - info about wifi, mobile and ATMs

Free wifi is widely available in the restaurants and hotels on the main tourist strip in Cat Ba town. Mobile phone services cover town and some parts of the island. Mobile phone cards are widely available.

There are ATMs on the main harbour strip. As Cat Ba is remote, keep some extra cash in a safe place for the unlikely but occasional failure of the ATM network.  Credit cards are not widely accepted.